For our initiation into the world of Nobu we choose the Melbourne restaurant - simply because we so happen to be here for my 24th (ahem) birthday. Situated near the Crown Towers Hotel in the Crown Entertainment Complex, Nobu Melbourne's dining area is dark, noisy and loud. So loud that even hearing your waitresses becomes a chore. Oh, and the floor has a constant vibration which gets pretty annoying by the end of the night.
No matter; we're here for the food, after all. Nobu has an extensive ala-carte menu but we declare #YOLO and order the Nobu Signature Omakase for AUD 135/pax (whole table must partake). The nine-courses of sinful goodness starts off with Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeño, in a yuzu ponzu sauce. It's a nice opening to the meal - the jalapeño adding a little tart spiciness to the sashimi and showcasing Chef Matsuhisa's willingness to embrace non-Japanese ingredients in his cuisine.
Moving on to more raw seafood - Scallop Sashimi with Chili Salt, sliced cucumber, yuzu dressing and a small sweet fruit named 山桃 (yamamomo - literally "Mountain Peach"). Scallop was delicate and sweet, although the flavor profile did seem a tad similar to the yellowtail (a little heat, a lot of citrus). We also prefer our sashimi to be cut a little chunkier.
After the sashimi comes the Sushi Platter - tuna, red snapper, and a new fish to us - King George Whiting. Pretty good - nice fish-to-riceball ratio, and the fish was fresh (although we prefer our lean tuna marinated in shoyu for smoothnes). However the shari (rice) lacks flavour - we would have much preferred an added dosage of rice vinegar and/or a little sweetness like the gorgeous rice at Shinji.
The fourth sushi served in the platter is Nobu's unique Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna. The rice ball seems to have been deep fried and then topped off with raw minced tuna. Tasted interesting but we didn't quite like how the fried bits got stuck all around the mouth/teeth.
Moving on from the raw seafood we then get this Lightly seared Wagyu with sesame oil and yuzu shoyu, topped with sliced ginger and chopped spring onions. No word on what marble score this wagyu is but it's delicious, especially with the fragrance of the sesame oil. A slight nitpick though; the darling's sauce was a little off balance with too much shoyu, making her dish a tad bit too salty.
The meal continues with Soft Shell Crab with diced watermelon and ponzu sauce. If you're counting this is the fourth dish out of five with citrus (and three out of five with soy sauce). I enjoy citrusy flavours as much as the next guy but at this stage it was getting to be a bit sour overload. What made it particularly noticeable on this dish is that the batter on the crab soaked up a LOT of the sauce. A shame, really, because the crab itself was cooked/fried to near perfection.
From the world's most renowned Japanese restaurant comes their most iconic dish - Black Cod Miso. It's good - soft and moist flesh on the inside, with generous sweet crusted miso on the outide. Served with a sprig of pickled young ginger to nibble on and cleanse the palatte if the miso becomes too sweet.
Last solid dish of the night - Baby Chicken with Sweet Miso. The shredded onion and cucumber with micro herb topping gave a pleasant South Asian taste. We thought the chicken was cooked well but otherwise didn't particularly stand out though.
Which brings us to the closing hot dish of the night - Red Snapper Broth with soba noodles and micro chives. It's a light and refreshing fish broth, nicely portioned to transition to desserts!
Our omakase dessert is a Whisky Cappuccino. Despite the somewhat monotonous all-white exterior, hiding under the cap of whisky foam are three distinct layers - Coffee Crumble, Coffee Cake and Coffee/Chocolate Mousse. You grab a spoon, dig right to the bottom and try to get all four layers at once. It's sinful and utterly delicious, and the flavor from the whisky foam gives the illusion of having a strong drink without the associated blood alcohol content. Genius!
We also get a pair of chocolates filled with mousse - one green tea and one olive oil and miso. Olive oil and miso in a chocolate? Yes, olive oil and miso in a chocolate.
Looking back at all nine courses, we did feel a tinge of disappointment - perhaps due in part to sky-high expectations. The food was good but not great; accomplished but not visionary. We also weren't big fans of (in our opinion) the excessive usage of soy sauce and citrus over too many dishes; and the dining atmosphere is really noisy. Almost like a Chinese Restaurant Wedding Banquet! Having said that, the flagship menu pricing at AUD 135 is very reasonable compared to other top-tier Aussie restaurants whose degustations are easily in the AUD 200 plus range.
For our readers in the Malaysia/Singapore region, Nobu Kuala Lumpur is a much closer restaurant serving much the same items; Omakase at the KL restaurant is a little pricier at around MYR 440 after service charge and taxes.
Nobu Melbourne is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Reservations recommended.